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Quick spin: 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  July 8, 2010 02:31 PM

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Electric Smart ForTwos have been zipping around Europe for three years, longer than the gas-powered Smart's tough life on US shores.

It hasn't been easy for Smart to compete here. When $4-per-gallon gas left the scene, so did sales. Safety fears, the anemic 3-cylinder engine, and high price for the Smart's sturdy body shell haven't disappeared. Even worse, small cars like the Ford Fiesta (or how about a year-old Prius?) can match or crush the Smart's 36-mpg combined fuel economy for the same price.

The ForTwo Electric Drive I drove Wednesday at the Herb Chambers dealership in Somerville may stop that chatter. After two years of road testing in England and Germany, Smart will bring 250 of these second-generation EVs to the US this October as part of a special four-year lease. Production models won't go on sale until 2012.

The lime green and white car I drove was a European model, so I easily hit 80 up and down the McGrath Highway. Smart says it'll do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. And it did, right as the Chevy HHR tore past me in the left lane. What good are kilometers if you can't use 'em?

Turns out maximum speed is 60 miles per hour, so forget about taking it on a real highway. The steering is also slow and vague, regenerative braking makes the pedal feel like mush, and acceleration is smooth but weak — all the hallmark dynamics of the second-generation Prius. A little more twist and control tweaks and it'll make the Nissan Leaf wilt.

But from block to block, the electric Smart dominates other EVs. Faint murmurs from the 30-kilowatt motor fade into the quiet cabin. It's a comfortable cruise, upset only by a few bumps the short wheelbase can't absorb. In return, you're awarded a tight 28.7-foot turning circle, which transforms K-turns into U-turns, illegal or otherwise.

Short of a diesel, electricity makes the most sense in a Smart. Even with a 16.5 kWh battery under the floor, total curb weight is a Lotus-beating 1,958 pounds. Cargo space and interior volume are unaffected. It uses regular 110-volt and 220-volt plugs, as opposed to a pricey proprietary charging system. This is a seamless conversion from the regular ForTwo.

If Smart gets the price below $28,000 without tax credits (the lease runs $31,500) to better compete with the $32,000 Leaf, they'll have a much easier time in this country.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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